Advance Planning Tips

“I have an Advance Directive not because I have a serious illness, but because I have a family.” — Ira Byock, MD

Advance planning means making decisions about the future and putting in writing those wishes, just in case something happens and the person is unable to speak for themselves. It can include:

  • Their wishes for medical care during serious illness
  • Their wishes for continuing or stopping medical treatments at the end of life
  • Who they want to speak for them if they are in an accident or too ill to talk about their wishes
  • Sharing personal values with loved ones
  • Planning for the estate and making a will

These decisions are the right of every individual and are based on personal values, preferences and discussions with loved ones. If your loved one is dealing with a serious illness, you can help them by encouraging them to make these decisions and put them in writing

Deciding About Treatments

When a person is diagnosed with a serious illness, it’s important to get information on the types of treatments that are available. Then, they need to decide what types of treatment they would or would not want. They can put advance directives into writing to give medical providers and family some guidance on what they would want if they are unable to speak for themselves.

Communicating End-of-Life Wishes

Decisions about end-of-life care are deeply personal, and are based on individual values and beliefs. It’s impossible to anticipate everything that might happen, so it’s vital that each person think in general about what is important to them. Conversations that focus on wishes and beliefs will help make it more clear for family and medical providers, relieving them of the need to guess what is wanted.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions

If someone is in an accident or has an illness that leaves them unable to talk about their wishes, who will speak for them?They need to choose someone they trust to carry out their wishes and have that person agree to speak for them. They will discuss with that person, called a proxy, all of their wishes and personal beliefs so the proxy can make decisions according to their preferences. It is necessary to have at least one backup person with the same information. There are some excellent resources to help you with this.

Sharing Your Values

Putting things in writing is important, but will not cover everything that might happen. That’s why it’s important you understand your loved one’s values and that they are clear about what they do and don’t want. Just because it’s in writing does not mean that every doctor, hospital or provider will have access to those instructions. If a person is unable to speak, the people around them must know how they feel and be able to speak on their behalf. Many people find these discussions difficult. We can help you start these conversations and help your family understand the illness and the options that are available. See Talking to Loved Ones

Estate Planning and Wills

Your attorney will help with the legal documents that might be needed. Other things that you might want to discuss with your loved one include burial arrangements, memorial services and notifications. Your hospice team can assist you in working on these options.


American Bar Association – Consumer’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning

National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization – Are You Traveling Without a Map? A Layperson’s Guide to Advance Care Planning

National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization – Download Your State’s Advance Directives

The Conversation Project